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Jain Stories

Abhaykumär and Thief Rohineya Chor(thief)

During the time of Lord Mahävir there was a burglar named Lohkhur. He lived in a remote cave in the Vaibhärgiri hill near the city of Räjgrihi. He was very clever in his profession and never left any traces of his burglary. He and his wife, Rohini, had a son named Rohineya. As Rohineya grew up, he learned his father’s profession and eventually became an expert burglar. He even surpassed his father in intelligence and smartness. It was almost impossible to recognize him when he was in disguise. If someone pursued him, he could outrun him or her. He robbed the rich and hid the treasures in the most unexpected and inaccessible places. He extended help to the poor from the wealth that he accumulated. Many of them felt grateful and were pleased with him. Therefore, they were not willing to help government officials to track him down.

Lohkhur was now very old and could see that his life was coming to an end. When he was on his deathbed, he called Rohineya and said that he was very happy with the expertise that he had shown in committing burglary, their ancestral profession. In order to remain successful, he advised his son never to listen to the sermons of Lord Mahävir because his teachings were not conducive to their profession. Rohineya promised his father he would abide by his advice.

After Lohkhur died, Rohineya expanded his burglary so much that it became almost impossible for rich families to ensure the safety of their property when they went out. They were constantly afraid that Rohineya would go to their home during their absence and take the jewelry and other valuables. Some people went to King Shrenik and requested him to take action to protect them from Rohineya’s burglaries, since police officers had failed to do anything about the matter. The king therefore asked his most intelligent chief minister Abhaykumär to take charge of arresting Rohineya.

Once, while Rohineya was secretly on his way to Räjgrihi, he had to pass by the side of the Lord Mahävir’s assembly hall. He remembered his father’s advice not to ever listen to Lord Mahävir’s sermon. He put his hands over his ears. Unfortunately, at that moment he stepped on a sharp thorn that went deep into his foot. He had to take his hands off his ears in order to take out the thorn. During this time, he heard the following words:

‘Human life is the best of all lives. It is possible to attain liberation only as a human. Every human being can attain salvation irrespective of caste, creed, or color. By virtuous deeds, one can gain a life in heaven where all sorts of pleasures and happiness exists.’

When heavenly beings walk their feet do not touch the ground. Their bodies are without shadow, their eyes remain steady, and their garlands do not wither. However, the life of a heavenly being does not lead to ultimate liberation, which provides eternal bliss and happiness. Therefore, heavenly beings crave a human life.’

By that time Rohineya had removed the thorn from his foot and covering his ears again with his hands, he proceeded towards the city.

Thief Rohineya accidentally hears a sermon
given by Bhagawän Mahävir

In the city, Abhaykumär had secretly posted trained soldiers in disguise at the gates and at all important locations. He himself remained watchful. When Rohineya entered the city, a trained soldier recognized him even though he was in the disguise of a farmer. The soldier sent a message to Abhaykumär that an unidentified person had entered the city. Abhaykumär became very alert. As Rohineya passed by, Abhaykumär glanced at him from a secret place. He recognized the burglar even in disguise and instructed his men to surround him. Smart as Rohineya was, he quickly recognized the danger. He ran towards the city wall. Unfortunately for him, there were soldiers near the wall. He was thus easily apprehended and was put in jail.

The next day he was presented in the royal court. As Rohineya was in disguise, it was hard to identify him as the burglar. Abhaykumär was of course sure but how could the accused be punished without proof of his identity? When the king asked him about his identity, Rohineya replied that he was a farmer named Durgachandra and belonged to the Shäligräm village. He had come to Räjgrihi to visit the capital and was returning home when the watchmen apprehended him. Rohineya had made arrangements for that assumed identity with the residents of the village. When inquiries were made in that village, the people confirmed what Rohineya had stated in court.

Abhaykumär had to devise a plan for getting a confession from Rohineya regarding the burglaries. He came to know that Rohineya was fond of drinks. He therefore arranged to serve an excessive amount of wine to the thief. The excessive wine made him unconscious. While unconscious, Rohineya was cleaned, dressed in extravagantly perfumed royal garments, and adorned with valuable jewelry. He was then placed on a luxurious velvet bed of sandalwood on the top floor of a palatial building. As Rohineya regained his consciousness, he saw himself in heavenly surroundings. There was a breathtaking view all around: the walls, ceiling and floor were crystalline, beautiful maidens were waving scented air with diamond studded fans, soft serene music was heard in the background, and fairylike dancers were dancing in tune with the music, and divine musicians were getting ready for a musical concert.

Rohineya could not make out where he was. He asked one of the girls where he was and why all of them were serving him so well. The girl replied that he was their new king in heaven. He had attained all the divine comforts, which now belonged to him. He could live like Indra, the king of heaven, and enjoy life with heavenly damsels.

‘Could this be true for a burglar like me?’ he asked himself. However, he then remembered that he was helpful to the poor and needy, and he was sure that God had been just. ‘Or could this be the plan of Abhaykumär?’ he thought again. It was hard for him to decide what the truth really was. He therefore thought it was best to wait and see.

Make-believe heaven created by Abhaykumär

After a while, a luxuriously clad person entered with a golden staff and a book in his hand. ‘Is your new Lord awake?’ he asked one of the damsels. The girl replied that their new Lord had just woken up and that they were getting ready to celebrate his arrival in heaven by presenting the divine concert. ‘Let me make sure that all preparations pertaining to his arrival have been completed before you start your concert; and let me also get some information from him that the heavenly realm needs to know.’ As he was saying this, he came to Rohineya. Opening his book, he asked Rohineya to narrate his deeds from his previous life prior to enjoying the amenities of heaven. Meanwhile, Rohineya was looking around. He remembered what he had heard from Lord Mahävir’s sermon about heavenly beings, when he stepped on the thorn. He observed the movements of heavenly beings in front of him. He noticed that their feet were touching the ground, their bodies had shadows, and their eyes were blinking like human beings. He immediately figured out that this heaven was not real and was only an illusion created by Abhaykumär to gain evidence of his burglaries.

He therefore replied that in the previous life he had given donations to worthy causes, had constructed temples, had been on pilgrimages to holy places and had rendered service to deserving people. The person took note of his statement and asked him to narrate any wrong deeds that he might have indulged in. Rohineya said that he had scrupulously avoided misdeeds and therefore he was born in heaven. Abhaykumär’s plan did not work and Rohineya was set free as being the innocent farmer that he pretended to be.

Rohineya was released, but he constantly thought about what had happened. He realized that what he had accidentally heard from Lord Mahävir had saved his life. Then how could his father be right in the advice that he had given? Lord Mahävir must be a very great entity. ‘If those words which were accidentally heard were so helpful, imagine how helpful his teachings would be?’ he asked himself. Had he wasted his years avoiding the sermons of the Lord? After pondering at length, he decided to go to Lord Mahävir and to serve at his feet. He went to the assembly and humbly requested the Lord to accept him as his disciple. He also requested to become a monk. Mahävir asked him to disclose his real identity and confess all his past sins to the king before renouncing his worldly life.

He then disclosed his real identity to the king who was present in the assembly and was ready to accept any punishment. He also requested Abhaykumär to accept all the treasures he had collected during his burglaries.

Since Rohineya had voluntarily confessed and had willingly returned everything that he had taken, the king decided to pardon him and permitted him to become a monk. Rohineya deeply repented for what he had done in his life. He started observing severe austerities in order to erase the Karmas acquired by his misdeeds. In his old age, with permission from Lord Mahävir, he adopted Sanlekhanä (avoiding food and staying in meditation until death). After his death he was born in heaven.

The theme here focuses on honesty and the principle of non-stealing. One should not steal from others even if one intends to donate the stolen items to the poor. Wrongdoing is still wrongdoing regardless of how much good you are doing in other areas. One must repent in order to destroy the bad Karmas that accumulate as a result of wrongdoing.

The second thing we learn from this story is that we can attain liberation only through the human form. Even heavenly beings cannot attain liberation without being born as human beings. So we should realize how fortunate we are to have this human birth, and we should make the most of it and wash away as many bad Karma as we can. Also, look at the power of Lord Mahävir’s sermon. Just a few words from his sermon saved and then ultimately changed Rohineya’s life forever. Imagine the benefit of listening to all His teachings.

Unfortunately, we cannot listen to His sermons directly, but we have his teachings available to us as Ägams. We should study and understand the Ägams as much as we can so that our lives can change for the better just like that of Rohineya.